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Lakeland Bluff, Inc. v. County of Will

NOVEMBER 7, 1969.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. MICHAEL A. ORENIC, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


The owner of the property involved in the cause before us first sought to have the property in Will County rezoned. When this request was denied, plaintiff Lakeland Bluff, Inc., sought to have the Will County zoning ordinance, as it relates to the property of plaintiff, declared invalid. The trial court decreed that the Will County ordinance was invalid as it applied to the property of plaintiff and granted the injunctive relief requested. The County appealed from such judgment.

The record discloses that in 1962, Patrick D. Fahey of Joliet, Illinois, purchased 700 acres of land near Braidwood in Will County, Illinois. In 1966 Mr. Fahey conveyed the 160-acre tract, which is the subject of the present litigation, to Lakeland Bluff, Inc., a corporation, in which Mr. Fahey owned all the stock. The property in question was zoned "F" (Farm District). Under such "F" classification the following uses were permitted: (1) airports, (2) cemeteries, (3) fairgrounds and racetracks, (4) farming, (5) landfill garbage disposal, (6) government military reservations, (7) game preserves, (8) milk bottling plants and creameries, (9) road construction material and processing plants for six-month periods, (10) monasteries, etc., (11) portable stands for sale of products, (12) penal institutions, (13) pigeon lofts and poultry farms, (14) pipelines, (15) garbage incinerators and sewer treatment works, (16) recreational camps, (17) sanitariums and similar institutions, (18) trap shooting, (19) temporary carnivals, and (20) various farm operations, gardening, veterinary hospitals and power plants. There was no specific provision which would allow mobile home developments in such "F" district and, accordingly, plaintiff sought rezoning of the 160-acre tract to "B-5" district. After application to the Will County Zoning Board of Appeals, this request was denied, and the denial was approved by the Board of Supervisors of Will County in October of 1967. The present injunction action was then undertaken, after a showing that the plaintiff had exhausted its remedies in seeking rezoning relief.

The 160-acre tract is an irregularly shaped parcel of land about one mile northeast of Braidwood, Illinois. It is bounded on the north by Route 113-S (Coal City Road); on the east by Route 129 running parallel to the G.M. & O. Railroad as well as Alternate Route 66; on the west by a local gravel road and on the south it adjoins a larger tract of which it was originally a part. All the land was formerly used for coal strip mining and was thus broken up into mounds, water holes and small lakes. The land is substantially useless for farming. Across the road to the north is the Wilmington Recreation Club which is a private recreation club using about 480 acres, with a membership of approximately 850. The activities of the club include boating, fishing, and camping, and camping trailers are permitted on the club property and can be seen from the highway running along the north side of the 160-acre tract in question. Another similar recreational area borders the property on the south and the southeast covering a tract of approximately 1,000 acres. There is farmland to the west of the 160-acre tract. The balance of the area around the 160-acre tract consists of land formerly used for strip mining and is abandoned so far as usage is concerned.

The cause was heard by the trial judge without a jury. At the hearing of this cause before the trial judge, a Mr. Richard Vaughan, employee-community relations supervisor for Uni-Royal, Inc., testified on behalf of the plaintiff. He pointed out that Uni-Royal, Inc. operates the Joliet Arsenal which covers 32 square miles of area in Will County and is only four miles from the 160-acre tract involved in the action. He referred to the importance of Uni-Royal in the national defense program, pointing out that this company produces one-half of the TNT produced in the United States. He further testified that the company had a labor shortage in the Joliet area and that he felt that the basic cause of the labor shortage was the lack of low-cost housing in the area for employees. Mr. Vaughan indicated that the proposed 1,200 mobile home unit on plaintiff's 160-acre tract would satisfy the need for housing the area and would allow Uni-Royal plant to employ hundreds more individuals. He stated that the need for immediate low-cost housing in the Arsenal area was desperate.

Mr. Paul Meyers of Northern Illinois Gas Company also testified that industrial development in the Joliet area was handicapped because of the shortage of low-cost housing and that a mobile home development would be a benefit to the area and help alleviate that situation.

The secretary of plaintiff-corporation testified as to the nature of the proposed mobile home site development. He pointed out that it would be designed for approximately six and one-half mobile home units per acre which was shown to be low density as compared with other comparable mobile home facilities. Each mobile home would have its own concrete slab and would be serviced by underground utilities, including sewage disposal. The development would have private roads, maintained by the owner, and the roads would be designed to be used by the 1,200 mobile home dwellers. The mobile homes would range from one to three-bedroom units. There would also be shopping facilities, a recreational area, private police and fire services, all provided by the owner at the owner's expense. The testimony distinguished the facility planned from what is known as a "trailer park," the chief difference being in the amount of services offered and the physical planning of the project.

A real estate broker from Joliet, Mr. Herb Regan, testified that farmland in the area would be worth $400 an acre but that it was his opinion that the 160 acres involved in the instant case would only bring about $50 an acre as zoned under the ordinance. If rezoned to allow a mobile home development, Mr. Regan stated that the land might be worth as much as $15,000 an acre. He also testified that in his opinion there would be no reduction of land values of nearby property if the 160 acres were developed for mobile homes.

The chief witness for the plaintiff was Mr. George H. Kranenberg, a professional planning and zoning expert. He was shown to have wide experience in the zoning and planning field. He testified that he considered the physical nature of the 160 acres, the uses of the land nearby, the character of the entire neighborhood, and, also, the need for additional low-cost housing in the area. Based upon these factors and others which he felt appropriate to consider, Mr. Kranenberg stated that the most feasible or the most suitable use of the 160 acres would be for the mobile home facility proposed by the plaintiff. He pointed out that to permit such facility would allow the area to be reclaimed and that many of the uses under the existing "F" classification, such as a garbage fill or airport, were not feasible for the area. He also pointed out that although the 160 acres could be used for some recreational facilities, there were already 1,500 acres of recreational land in the immediate area.

Mr. Kranenberg noted that the 160 acres was buffered on all sides by roads and, thus, there would be, in his opinion, "absolutely no detrimental effect" on the surrounding property. The witness testified that the mobile home development in his opinion would actually benefit the area both economically and in the use of land which was otherwise wasted. He pointed out also that although he had testified many times in court actions both for and against municipalities, this was the first time he had ever testified in favor of a particular site for a mobile home development, for the reason that in his 35 years of experience he had never seen a better site for such mobile home development. The witness also concluded that the development would not be incompatible with the use of land surrounding the 160-acre tract since there were numerous house trailers in the area and, also in the City of Braidwood. He concluded that due to the physical condition of the land (abandoned strip mining property), the site was more conducive to a mobile home development than to development for single-family homes.

Mr. Rolf Campbell, a planner and consultant who testified for the defendant county stated that the highest and best use of the 160-acre tract would be for recreational purposes. He also concluded that such use would contribute the most to the economy of Will County. He also stated that a development for mobile homes would be detrimental to the adjacent property to the west, but it was not apparent from his testimony in what respect this detriment would arise. Mr. Campbell also pointed out that a mobile home development would bring in many people to the area and that the tax obtained from the mobile homes could not finance roads, schools and other services which would be needed as a result of the mobile home development. A Mr. Sheldon C. Bell, a real estate broker, testifying for the County of Will, stated that in his opinion the highest and best use of the property was for recreational purposes. He pointed out also that there had been no growth in the Braidwood area over the last years.

Upon conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that the property was formerly used for strip mining and could not presently be farmed. The court further found that plaintiff had shown the great need for low-cost housing in the area and that mobile homes would cost about one-third as much as permanent dwellings and could be developed much more quickly than permanent dwellings, thus better supplying a critical housing need. The court also found that a mobile home development was the most appropriate use of the property, as the area was buffered; that the tract was wasteland which would be reclaimed; and that the need for housing in the area would be fulfilled. The Court likewise found that the testimony of defendant's witnesses, that this area should be used for more recreational area, was not supported by the evidence. The court additionally concluded that the use of the property for mobile home development would not diminish property values in the area any more than any of the uses authorized in an "F" zoned area. In essence, the conclusion of the trial court was that appropriate use of the property involved in the cause before us was for a self-sufficient mobile home development. The court concluded that the zoning ordinance of Will County has denied plaintiff the right to the use of the property for such purpose and that the ordinance was invalid and void and of no effect in its application to the property to the extent that it limited such use.

The issue on appeal, therefore, is whether the ordinance of Will County, in denying plaintiff the right to the use of its property for a self-sufficient mobile home development was arbitrary and unreasonable and without substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals and welfare. An alternative method of stating the questions presented specifically for review is (1) whether the so-called presumption of "legislative validity" was rebutted and overcome in the cause before us, and (2) whether the findings of the trial court and the judgment were based on sufficient evidence to warrant the zoning relief prayed for.

[1-3] The presumption of validity which arises from enactment of a zoning ordinance can be overcome by clear and convincing evidence that the ordinance, as applied to the subject land, was arbitrary and unreasonable and without real or substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals and welfare (Urann v. Village of Hinsdale, 30 Ill.2d 170, 174-175, 195 N.E.2d 643). The courts of this State have recognized that the validity of each zoning ordinance must be determined on its own facts and circumstances (La Salle Nat. Bank v. County of Cook, 12 Ill.2d 40, 46, 145 N.E.2d 65). Following the case of Krom v. City of Elmhurst, 8 Ill.2d 104, 133 N.E.2d 1, where the court began to set forth guidelines for determining whether a particular ordinance was invalid as related to the property of the person ...

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